Micah Rice: Boring would be better for Timbers

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor



It has been a thrilling, maddening and sometimes nauseating ride for the Portland Timbers.

As Major League Soccer takes a World Cup break, no team needs it more than those on the Rose City roller coaster.

There have been heart-racing highs. Five times, the Timbers have scored in the final five minutes to either win or tie the match.

There have been stomach-dropping lows. Portland allowed four goals at home to Cascadia rivals Vancouver and Seattle, which erased a 4-2 deficit in the final 10 minutes.

Just when you think the ride has leveled out, another surprise waits around the corner.

The Timbers played perhaps their best match June 7, winning for the first time at Real Salt Lake. But four days later, they had with one of their worst halves and nearly lost to Dallas for the first time at home.

Those twists and turns are enough to turn anyone green in the face. If you want to see coach Caleb Porter's face turn red, however, get him to talk about his defense.

"We're not organized enough, not tight enough, not confident enough, not disciplined enough," he said after Wednesday's 2-2 draw to Dallas. "There are good attacking players in this league, and you need guys that are able to shut people down."

Therein lies the key to the second half of the season. The first half has been entertaining, but not always in a good way. Despite all the drama, the Timbers find themselves just one point out of the fifth and final playoff spot.

To make the playoffs, the Timbers need to be stable, precise and — God forbid — boring on defense.

That stability relies on having consistent personnel. Portland hasn't started the same four defenders in back-to-back games since May 3 and 11.

To be fair, that has partly been due to injuries. Wednesday, Michael Harrington returned at right back after missing five games with an ankle injury.

But the ever-morphing defensive lineups have largely been due to underperformance.

"I don't like to change my back line," Porter said. "That's where you'd like to have continuity. … A majority of the time it's been because it hasn't been good enough. It's that simple. That line has not been good enough. And if we need to change and correct it, we will.

You want excitement to come from your forwards, and there has been plenty of that. Portland's 28 goals are tied for second most on the MLS. Gaston Fernandez, Maximiliano Urruti and the newly acquired Fanendo Adi can, and have, created scoring chances out of thin air.

But you don't want fireworks in your backfield, which has been lit up like the Fourth of July. Only two MLS teams have allowed more than Portland's 27 goals.

"There's still a lot of positive things to build on," captain Will Johnson said. "There's still a lot of games to play. We've been tested mentally a lot more than other teams. I think that will play into our favor."

It's been quite a ride for the Timbers over the first half of the season. Especially on defense, they can only hope the second half is a little more boring.

Micah Rice is The Columbian's sports editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or on Twitter @col_mrice .